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The best idea for a Tampa Bay Rays stadium might be a joint effort

Here's what we do. We dredge up a new island smack in the middle of Tampa Bay. We run an exit ramp to it off the Howard Frankland Bridge.

And there's where we build a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, with both the Hillsborough and Pinellas sides chipping in.

Heck, this should cost only a couple of billion extra. Maybe we can get the feds to call it a "stimulus" project.

Don't like the island scheme? Okay, here's Plan B.

We settle on the best spot in Pinellas County for a new stadium, and the best spot in Hillsborough. Again, both sides sign a deal in advance saying they will chip in.

Then we meet in the middle of the Howard Frankland — and flip a coin.

Both of these fantasies involve a multicounty effort. Heck, why stop there? Let's get some dough from Pasco, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota, too.

If that sounds crazy, well, it's only crazy by Tampa Bay standards. That kind of regional cooperation is normal in some places.

Why shouldn't it be? Sports teams have regional identity. They provide regional benefits. A team's fan base doesn't stop at a county line.

But here, we go it alone. Raymond James Stadium or the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa are "ours" (if you live in Hillsborough) and Tropicana Field is "theirs." Or vice versa. I didn't hear many people in Pinellas crying out to help pay for a Bucs stadium or a Lightning arena, nor many in Tampa for baseball in St. Petersburg.

If we build a stadium at all, the main issues of course are: (1) Where? (2) Who pays for it?

A couple of things happened last week that fired up this discussion. The first was lackluster attendance at what was expected to be a marquee showdown between the Rays and their rivals in last year's World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies.

In a rare shot across the public's bow, the Rays pronounced themselves "bewildered" at the lukewarm showing. Critics crowed that it was proof St. Petersburg is not "a baseball city" and the team should be moved to Tampa.

I dunno. The top AL East rivals draw pretty well, don't they? Maybe the World Series rematch just didn't have the allure the Rays had hoped for. Overall attendance is up 23 percent for the year so far; doesn't that count?

As if on cue, the Phillies series was followed by the news that the private-sector committee studying a new stadium, A Baseball Community, is considering three sites in Hillsborough as well as downtown St. Petersburg and mid Pinellas.

So, what happens if the group recommends a site outside of St. Petersburg? Will that city vow to fight? If the site is in mid Pinellas, will the county rush to foot the bill? If it's Hillsborough, will the city and county leaders there eagerly embrace the idea of being on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars?

I still think that this process will, by default, result either in a mid Pinellas site, more easily accessible to Hillsborough, or will end up back in downtown St. Petersburg. But under our go-it-alone model, the people of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County will bear all the financial burden again for a regional sports franchise — unless Tampa and Hillsborough, just because they are such nice guys, offer to chip in anyway. Riiight.

That island in the middle of the bay is starting to look better.

The best idea for a Tampa Bay Rays stadium might be a joint effort 06/27/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 4:32pm]
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